Sean and Blair Esson will soon be packing up an arsenal of half-pipe tricks and boardercross skills — each refined on the slopes of Donner Summit’s Boreal resort — and heading across the ocean with visions of gold medals.

The two brothers, both born deaf, have been shredding halfpipes and slopestyle courses from Tahoe to South America all their lives, with impressive results. But in February in Slovakia, they will be representing the United States — and the Truckee area — in one of the longest running and most prestigious international sporting competitions in the world — the Deaflympics.

The International Olympic Committee–sanctioned event started in 1924, making it the longest running multi-event sporting event other than the Olympics. More than 4,000 athletes from 77 countries participated in the last Deaflympics.


Competing in halfpipe and slopestyle is nothing new for the Esson boys, who have entered contests across the continent. But the snowboard team at the Deaflympics also competes in boardercross, a discipline that both brothers have been working hard to perfect before the trip to Slovakia.

Blair and Sean are well known around Boreal. Sean, 23, is recognized as one of the most attentive, positive, and outgoing snowboard instructors on the mountain. His passion for teaching snowboarding earned him Employee of the Year honors at the Donner Summit resort last year.

Jon Slaughter, marketing manager at Boreal, said he knew Sean as a ripping halfpipe rider and slopestyle shredder, but soon found out he excelled just as much at teaching snowboarding when the comment box at Boreal began to fill with hundreds of comments on Sean’s dedicated teaching style.

‘He keeps going above and beyond,’ said Slaughter.

And Blair has won several rail and park competitions at the mountain.

‘When he was 13 he was competing with 20- year-olds,’ said Slaughter.

Leslie Esson, Sean and Blair’s mother, said her sons’ hearing impairment has never held them back.

While being born deaf has affected their speech slightly, ‘there is not a shy bone in either of them,’ she said.

Sean and Blair have both received cochlear implants to help them hear. The implants are not used by athletes during the Deaflympics so that all athletes compete on the same level, according to the Deaflympics website.

Sean and Blair will leave for the Deaflympics on Feb. 14, meeting up with the American Deaflympics team in Washington, D.C., and then traveling on to the competition venue in Slovakia.


  • David Bunker

    David Bunker almost dropped out of journalism school to hunt non-native rats on an uninhabited Pacific island. Instead, he graduated college and launched into a career of dump truck driving and ditch digging before taking up writing as a profession. He’s written for newspapers and magazines across the West and won numerous first place awards in the California and Nevada press associations.

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